There are many victims in war.
In basic training in the US military, new recruits who are broken down to break the human inhibition to killing take part in training chants like, “What makes the grass grow? Blood, blood, bright red blood.”
War is complicated.
The victims are everywhere -- not just the civilians, but even within the US military itself. Over 5,500 soldiers have deserted since the US led invasion of Iraq began. Thousands more are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression beyond the thousands of casualties and injured. There are well over 100,000 Iraqi dead since the war began.
George W. Bush and his Republican administration should have to wear the war in Iraq when it's all over. He has divided the nation and the world in a way that has not been seen since Vietnam.
The American people, by giving the Republicans the White House and an overwhelming majority at the House and Senate, have only emboldened an ideologically driven administration to continue on its unilateralist path outside of the confines of international law and the consensus of Western nations. “Moderates” like Colin Powell have left, while Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and his Pentagon mafia are still around.
As the unmanned drones fly over Iran today in preparation for what could become another military campaign, the information coming out of Iraq should offer some sobering cause for reflection.
Recently in Vancouver, former US Marine Sergeant Jimmy Massey addressed a small crowd and clearly described US human rights violations and direct violations of Geneva conventions in Iraq. He talked about how the military taught recruits to hate another culture and did not give them the tools to appreciate or understand adequately those who they were being sent to kill and to liberate.
Massey is a former military recruiter from North Carolina who received an honorable discharge from the US military after being part of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. He now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression. On the chalkboard he drew a composite of the checkpoint outside of Rashid Camp on the outskirts of Baghdad, and talked about the different aspects that went in to the decision making to open fire in situations. Even though platoon commanders were trained in the requirements of the Geneva conventions, classified briefings in the field regularly exaggerated claims of insurgents and created an environment in the battlefield where soldiers were shooting at unarmed civilians. Operational guidelines on closing roads and setting up checkpoints were often times ignored or became de facto places where soldiers were “lighting them up.”
Massey clearly said several times, “We are committing genocide in Iraq.”
He himself said he was ordered to fire on several occasions and in one instance, 30 Iraqi civilians were killed over a 48-hour period. He says that he along with his fellow soldiers were directly involved in war crimes.
Massey's biggest critique is for the propaganda that comes with war not only within military training practices but on the battle field itself. He knows the First Amendment well and he intends to take it to its limits to describe the horrors of the Iraqi war in the United States.
On the battlefield and in the homes of Iraqi civilians, there are thousands of narratives of what is happening on the ground. There is no central experience to speak of. One experiences what they see.
Here we were, listening to a trained killer, a violator of international law who had blood on his hands, and had come back from Iraq as a broken man.
It was complicated -- because he, too, was a victim. He was a front line killer in a military machine that trained him to dehumanize his victims. Growing up poor and joining the military for a university education can sometimes be a roadmap to hell.
I empathize with him because he's a human being and has important perspectives to offer. He is brave for speaking out, but he should also be held accountable for the deaths he participated in and his superiors whose systemic uses of propaganda in the internal processes of the US military directly led to violations of international law on the front lines in Iraq.
War is ugly. War is brutal. People die.
But what good is international law or the Geneva conventions when the most powerful military force in the world regularly slaughters civilians and the front line soldiers do not have the training or the resources to meet the standards required of them.
It is a fundamental question.
On the battlefield, it means that innocent civilians die. A State of the Union Address or Iraqi elections will not change that. Soldiers on the front line should know how to set up a checkpoint so they aren't firing indiscriminately at unarmed people.
During the Vietnam War, 60,000 American crossed the border and were given refugee status. Under Canada's new refugee determination procedures, fear of prosecution at home is not considered persecution.
Jeremy Hinzman of the 82nd Airborne in his first appearance at the refugee board as a principled deserter attempted to make the argument that the war's illegality under international law should be the basis of a legitimate claim for refugee status. In an interim ruling prior to the hearing, the Immigration and Refugee Board acting on an argument put forward by the Canadian government agreed that the question of the war's legality was irrelevant to the case.
A ruling on the refugee status of several American war resisters including Hinzman is expected in a few weeks. Hinzman originally joined the military as a way to go to college before deserting with his wife and child to Toronto weeks before he was due to be sent to Iraq after he was denied conscientious objector status while serving in non-combat duties in Afghanistan.
Sergeant Jimmy Massey is concerned that there is a de facto economic draft happening in the United States today. In a previous interview he has publicly said, “When I was on recruiting duty, I really began to question what was going on. I’m not going to say that the Marine Corps is all flat-out lies, but it is very misleading the way we enlist recruits. A lot of the kids joining the military are from the ‘barrios’ and ‘hoods,’ or the poor parts of the Appalachian Mountains, where we’re sitting right here. Appalachia has some of the poorest counties in the country -- so they’re sweeping them up.”
“You know, these kids are just thankful that they’ve got some health care—for a lot of them, the first time they even went to the dentist is when they joined the Marine Corps. Then you pump them full of patriotism and intangible benefits—self-confidence and what not—and now you’re indoctrinating a young person with an ideology.
“Boot camp is designed to dehumanize and desensitize a person to violence. I was a Marine Corps boot camp instructor for two-and-a-half years, and I know that it is designed to strip you down and rebuild you. The only purpose of the Marine Corps is to meet the enemy on the battlefield and destroy them.”
Added to this are further issues on the front line in Iraq, which have rarely been addressed. Even though only 2.6% of the US military is made up of non-US citizens, the forces in Iraq are composed of close to 30% non-US citizens fighting under direct American control and are predominately Hispanic and have been given offers of honorary citizenship as enticements to enlist. As well, the deaths of non-US citizens are not officially counted as part of the American dead. Some have estimated that the number of the American war dead is double the amount currently stated.
Under immigration law, there are three mechanisms by which a member of the Armed Forces can become a naturalized US citizen.
Section 328 of the Immigration and Nationality Act permits a person who has served honorably in the US Armed Forces for a period aggregating three years to naturalize.
Section 329 of the INA allows an alien to naturalize if they served honorably under active duty status during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War or in other periods of military hostilities designated by the President by Executive Order.
On July 3, 2002, President Bush designated the period following September 11, 2001 as one of military hostilities that allowed for immediate naturalization eligibility for active duty US Military service members. The Department of Defense and the Bureaus of Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security work closely together to process military naturalization applications.
The third way a non-citizen member can become a citizen is after death while on active duty service where much discussion has taken place regarding the ability of their direct family members to obtain American citizenship.
One of the first deaths of US led forces in Iraq was of Lance Corporal Jose Gutierrez, an orphan from Guatemala who hitchhiked on to railcars to Mexico before making it to the streets of Los Angeles. There were three others who died in the early months of the invasion of Iraq including Private First Class Francisco Martinez Flores, Corporal Jose Angel Gabray, and Lance Corporal Jusus Sorres Del Solar, all originally from Mexico.
As the Republicans leadership pushes on its unilateralist course, the Democrats are floundering on multiple approaches and are unable to reach a consensus on how to move forward on the question of withdrawal. Representative Lynn Woolsey is pushing for “immediate withdrawal,” Representative Marty Meehan has released a white paper calling for a phased withdrawal over 12 to 18 months while Senator Ted Kennedy has called for the immediate withdrawal of 12,000 troops while keeping 30,000 t0 50,000 troops in place to prevent the kind of chaos that would lead to a civil war within Iraq. His Democratic Senate colleagues including John Kerry have spoken against his plan.
“What do you tell a kid that just came back from war with the economy the way it is and the lack of jobs, who’s just got finished murdering innocent civilians because his government has violated every law in the Geneva Conventions?” Massey said in a previous interview. “You expect him to come back to the US and be a productive citizen? What do you do? For me, I keep hanging on to one thing that my grandfather used to say: ‘The truth shall set you free.’ I’ll keep talking as long as people listen.”
Make no mistake -- despite the Democratic floundering this is a Republican War, not an American War. If dissent is the highest form of patriotism as Thomas Jefferson once said, then American citizens need to send a message to their government before the drum beats of war lead to Iran.
Am Johal is a Canadian freelance writer living in Israel. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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